Monthly Archives: January 2012

Catholic Cuba

I’ll never forget when the news came from Radio Marti that we Cubans had a Cardinal. My mother, excited, let me know, and from her tearful eyes came her illusions about the Catholic Church, that had just added to its conclave a high church official. From her hopeless simplicity, my mother intended to convey to me that, hierarchically speaking, “a cardinal is more than Fidel,” as she decreed. I remember that I shook my head yes; I didn’t want to spoil her illusions.

Of course we know what a cardinal means, but those who should have believed it didn’t. “President” Fidel Castro and his supporters ultimately never finished the work of mowing down the church of the Cuban people. That unfinished task has always been his frustration.

In my humble person Pope John Paul II had one of the faithful who most admired him. My love for him became worship. In addition to being the Holy Father, he was a born political leader. And I will always keep the thrill I felt when he greeted me, an unimportant bystander, when he expressed love from his motorcade.

I will always remember his visit with gratitude. But if I had been his advisor, I would have suggested that he not turn up in a Cuba without freedom, without progress and without the most basic respect for human rights: Freedom of Expression. Many Cubans placed their hopes in his visit, thinking they would gain significant social achievements, political freedoms, and even that it augured multiparty elections.

It’s healthy to remember the years of “politicking” that keep the Castro brothers in power, and needless to say, they wouldn’t accept any visit, not even of Jesus Christ in person, if it jeopardized their power. I always knew that with objective clarity.

After the Pope left, we still have hope, even if we have empty hands, because after all we keep them in our pockets, there’s no point in showing how empty they are.

What we Cubans have to achieve won’t come from anyone’s visit, nor from the “peace concert”, although it had good intentions, nor from the “U.S. blockade.” It will come the day we demand what belongs to us by our own right. Then, after participatory democracy wins and Cubans have the right to choose freely and consistently what they want for themselves, we will welcome the current Pope, and also, spiritually, we will receive the Vicar of God, now in heaven, Father John Paul II, the simple man and scholar who was Wojtyla.

But we know that the road to paradise is paved with good intentions, and so is the one that leads to freedom on the island of Cuba.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 26 2012

On the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Charity del Cobre, on September 8, a group of thugs were commandeered by Cuban State Security to attack opponents of the regime. I have to confess that I could not hide my surprise to see those criminals who, like mercenaries, respond to the orders of the military.

Among that group of people I spotted the Ladies in White with gladioli in their hands, ladies dressed in white, marching in silence. I approached them in solidarity, excited, without stopping to admit that it was silliness or innocence on my part, if it were within my reach, to protect them in some way.

An opponent pulled out his cell phone and tried to take some photos, and one of the delinquents who earlier and now, with license from State Security (G-2) acted as a bully on their behalf, tried violently to steal the phone. For a few seconds the force of the compact mass turned into a stampede. The international journalists tried to capture the images and the rogues, not the officials, tried to put their hands in front of the lenses to block them. Two thugs quickly took another opponent by the neck and pulled him into the candy store on Galeano street, where two other men were waiting inside where they beat him unconscious.

Then the supposed Ladies in White who were next to me started to shout, “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul! Viva la Revolucion!” I was so surprised by this farce that I fled, terrified of the ruling clique. I approached the young dissident whose cellphone they had tried to steal. And he told me the details.

I was so angry that I took out my phone to capture the faces of those who had undertaken the operation and one day, when freedom comes, it will at least be a reminder of the injustice and abuses there were. To my surprise, I didn’t know at what moment they had me surrounded. There were ten burly ruffians who had made a circle around me. I couldn’t approach them, nor they me. With the cellphone I filmed them, especially the Chief of Operations (he had a gold chain around his neck), who seeing my intention turned his face to avoid being captured on camera. There were two things that aroused my curiosity, and they showed up in the images: Among the miscreants there was one white, and they all had an aspect of low moral character, little education, and the air of the prison about them.

The pilgrimage changed into a journey of the absurd, of complete audacity. All I could do was ask myself two questions. How is it possible for a State employing such maneuvers to continue in Power? And the second: How is it possible that anyone can defend a system that commits these violations and abuses?

Last Monday, the 26th, at the Church of Las Mercedes, they conducted another but more hidden raid. Agents in the motorcade blocked auto access around the perimeters close to the church. A cordon of plainclothes knaves, with the same aspect of thugs, stationed on the corners, prevented the arrival of the opponents seizing their identity cards and loading them into Lada-made cars with yellow — private — plates, to avoid any association with the Government, and took them off to the interrogation rooms.

At the same time they prevented several Ladies in White from leaving their houses. At the doors of their homes, two unpresentable looking men warned them, every time they tried to leave, not to try it for their own good because something very bad would happen to them if they did. On the facing sidewalk several young women, who looked a sight, gesticulating and acting like a mob, told the two criminals, “Let them leave so we can come up there and give them something to show for it, when we’re done with them they won’t want to counterrevolutionaries any more!”

Despite everything, it was the reaction from the neighbors that caught my attention. They looked astonished about what the Castro brothers had come to, to save their useless system. And, despite their fear, they expressed themselves against the abuse without even lowering their voices, at the expense of those pressuring them.

Then other criminals came to replace them. And I followed them to see where they were going. Along the way they were boasting about the kicks and punches they were going to give to “these counterrevolutionaries,” if they finally left their houses.

that group of undesirables went down Cuban street until they reached the Police Station in San Ignacio. A police van was waiting to take them back to the shelters when the operation ended, and also waiting for a car with MINIT plates. When I went through the Station door I saw them inside having a snack, refortifying themselves to return to their repression.

A friend who lives nearby told me that the majority of the criminals in the operation were on parole from prison to help the Revolution. The classic blackmail. Most of the people they choose for the job are blacks because they intimidate them with what will happen if another system replaces the current one, and at the same time they are least likely to have family in Miami, so they can criticize them and persuade them to take such action.

But it is simpler and more straightforward than that: if they don’t comply with their agreements and follow orders when they are given, they return them to the prisons they took them out of to serve the rest of their sentences and, certainly, the cancel the reductions in their sentences for good behavior. My friend assured me that now a new force is coming made up of some of the 2,900 released prisoners that Raul Castro announced in his last speech.

Then I couldn’t help feeling sorry for these captive and at times enslaved beings, with a fate imposed on them, who also, like the opponents, are struggling to do better for themselves; only in the case of the dissidents despite the blows and arrests they suffer first hand, when they think of themselves they substitute their own bodies for the Island of Cuba.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

January 17 2012

A Chip Off The Old Block: Che’s Daughter

As if by agreement, Mariela Castro flatters the Dutch system of prostitution in the Amsterdam red light district, and Aleida Guevara (both without highlighting they’d come from the most advantaged sperm of their fathers who fertilized the eggs of their mothers), counsels the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, that he should nationalize the entire press. Their declarations do discredit to themselves. In each interview they gave they received a red card and a penalty.

To recommend such barbarism to the Caudillo shows an Olympian underestimation of him, as if it hadn’t already previously occurred to him. Perhaps little Aleida didn’t read about Chavez’s closure of the newspapers and radio and TV channels? Couldn’t she imagine that her uncle Fidel had already advised the same.

What is happening is that times now are not the same if we compare them to the decade of the sixties, and no one has informed this brat that she has lived in a bubble (having had the privilege of believing that socialism is effective because her table has never lacked filet mignon, nougat, apples and wine, all as a great concert of imports), and she is unaware that the world is watching and expressing its disagreement with such abuses and lack of democracy, and, precisely because of these follies typical of dictators, in recent times the most important political changes in contemporary history are taking place.

I’d like to note that this post has been the most difficult of all those written by me so far. I find Aleida so alien, so distant from the events of the world, that at times it seems to me as if she is mentally retarded. I saw her with her children in primary school many times, at 5th and 62nd Streets, with her arrogant airs and figure, looking at the rest of the parents over her shoulder at a prudent distance so as not to mingle with the plebs. I could also appreciate the sly contempt with which the parents responded. Listening to the teachers, after flattering her, cursing her and cataloging the ungratefulness and abuse of her position as “daddy’s girl.”

In addition to her caudillo-taliban education, you have to remember her genetic inheritance, hence Aleida Guevara’s pose as a Court Aristocrat, nails bared as is natural. It doesn’t take much imagination to know what she would be capable of if you put a little power in her hands.

I always remember the shocking testimony of Comandante Benigno, who may have known Che well, when they went to execute the peasant who told the enemy the coordinates where they could find Fidel Castro’s guerrilla camp in the Sierra Maestra, and after a “summary trial,” the accused was led by Che, William Galvez and Benigno, and as they left the camp, looking for a place to carry out the execution, they hear an unexpected gunshot very close to their ears. The shock made them take a defensive position, when they looked they saw the body of the peasant fall with his head exploded from a shot by Che, who, cold-bloodedly, put away the pistol and advised them to hurry back because it was going to rain. There’s nothing more to say. To end this interminable story, on his arrival at La Cabaña prison, where he established his command post, he provoked a river of blood with hundreds of firing squads. He spent more bullets in La Cabaña than in the entire guerrilla war.

In Africa, after the battle in which an African soldier, in order to save his own life, had to abandon his machine gun because of its weight and the difficulty of moving it, Che called him a coward in front of everyone. And the African soldier refuted him, explaining that he had no other human choice. And Che, with the same coolness with which he destroyed the peasant’s head with his bullet, said laconically, “you made a coward of yourself.” And in the follow battles the soldier chose to lose his life rather than abandoning the machine gun again, and the same Che, later in his diary, recognized that it had been his fault. He had this gift of killing people, directly and indirectly, those who because of ideology and by chance ran into him.

And now his daughter, she takes after her father, doesn’t know the reality of Cubans, lives in a house that she doesn’t know how or by whom it got built and she’s never had to pay the costs of it, drives a car without having earned it, at a cost which is the sweat of people who were never consulted about whether they would accept the sacrifice for her comfort, and now on her Trip to Peru she assures the press, thinking herself greatly conversant in the political and social world, that she has counseled the dictator Hugo Chavez to imitate her uncle Fidel. How ridiculous is this girl from the court? I can’t forget when, as an adult, she went to Argentina for the first time, and in less than a month returned speaking with the intonation of her father. She was greeted at the airport before a world cringing in embarrassment, in front of her uncle Fidel, who timidly watched her butcher the accent, a capricious cadence at a desperate speed.

And now she comes to us with her know-it-all airs, wandering the world with the people’s money and the memory of her father. I’ll never understand how there can be people who are proud of a man who ordered executions and who, himself, with his own hand, carried out the sentences. It seems to me that the figure of Che has been the image most manipulated in our era.

Now we have to endure this daughter of her father and niece of her uncle, who comes to us with her extremist actions that reaffirm, in addition to her genetics, the sentiments of her biological family and the work of her in loco parentis Fidel Castro.

As my aunt would say, “God save us, and take us confessed.”

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

January 10 2012

Open Letter from the Writer Ángel Santiesteban-Prats to the New President of Spain

Havana, 20 December 2011

President Mariano Rajoy, I turn to you on the day my daughter celebrates her birthday. Just thinking of the Cuban young people, I decided to write you these humble and sincere words without standing on ceremony other than to offer you well-deserved congratulations, and to cry for the young of my country whose only horizon is the Straits of Florida which cause so many deaths. But not before giving you a small account of the last two governments of my country and the impact they have had on us.

Since the absence in power of Spain’s People’s Party, three elections back, the freedom of Cubans has been banished. We quickly received a half-communist minister representing the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party), who came to negotiate with the Castro brothers. Since then, the silence and Spanish president Zapatero’s complicity threw its dark mantle over the Cuban archipelago. The days when the freedom of the people was more important to Spain than relations with a tyrant, were long gone.

That complicity with which the Cultural Attache welcomed those of us with the intention to participate in some literary contest in Spain, and the envelopes full of stories and hopes, ended. From that time on we no longer received the latest published books from the Iberian peninsula, nor the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana which had provided us with the latest cultural events in the world and, especially, in the culture of our diaspora forbidden on Cuban soil.

The literary, essay and photography contest thought up by the Spanish embassy, which was juried and where I was told there was no pressure because they would award the prize to some irreverent text despite the political system that scorns us and exists in this country, only got as far as a call for entries. The official policy of support for marginalized artists vanished. We also lost the profound and hard work of the Hispanic-American Center because the dictatorship closed it, not wanting there to be a space for the cultural freedom it supported.

Then, the meeting with the ungainly ambassador of whom I only remember his name “Lazarus,” and who joked about a Bible passage, “Lazarus, arise and walk,” because the Lazarus sent to us only came to lie down at the feet of the dictator. And the following meeting for Columbus Day, which we had celebrated in the ambassador’s residence for many years, and Lazarus just read our group what his work plan was going to be, which was “nothing,” making him the second Government of the Island. Since then we haven’t gone back despite continuing to receive an invitation.

Months later the Ambassadors of the European Union wanted a meeting-dialogue with Cuban writers in the residence of the Ambassador of Austria, which chaired the EU at the time. Attending were Leonardo Padura, Amado del Pino, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Montero and me. Each gave his vision of the social reality.

Some Ambassadors wondered about the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, and thought that perhaps, as expressed by the Spanish Ambassador, that starting with a substantion improvement in the economy, there would arise an improvement in individual freedoms. He was hoping for better times for Cuba, the raising of the national economy and social freedoms.

When I intervened I said that with reference to the possibility of “economic improvement”, I found myself pessimistic, given that the years of dictatorship had demonstrated gross mismanagement of the assets of the People, and that in the unlikely event that Venezuela became what the Union Soviet and the rest of the socialist camp had been for Cuba, it would be disastrous for individual liberties, as rather than being strengthened, repression would also increase.

That the Ruler (at the time it was Fidel Castro, now it is his brother, but it has always been the same last name), had ceded his harsh dictatorship from the Special Period, when he lost credibility and followers, but there was a return to economic consolidation, which I doubted we could say for certain that it would sharpen the repression, censorship and imprisonment of opponents of the government.

After the meeting ended, while having refreshments, I was approached by Ambassador Lazaro, who told me light-heartedly, “Don’t be so pessimistic.” I gave him a look as impotence threatened to overcome me. “Sir,” I said, “how is it possible that you dare to ask for optimism from one of the members of the third generation that this process has consumed without any benefit. Fidel Castro is a human crushing machine.”

The ambassador wanted to escape but I stopped him: “Never,” I pronounced, “have I seen the Cuban State prosper, not in economic matters nor in individual liberties, and unfortunately we two are going to be alive to see it.”

The Ambassador raised his arms and walked away. We never met again. I did not accept his invitations. Wherever he finds himself today, he should remember the words that without being an expert in political and social matters, were offered to him, a career diplomat, most disadvantaged by our forecasts, with his failure as Ambassador and his role in a boring and submissive political party, so much so, that his own workers in the Spanish embassy in Havana let us know that they had a room full of the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, which they couldn’t distribute because the government had forbidden it in secret negotiations.

In those two governments of Zapatero, we have suffered the shamelessness of both presidencies (Zapatero-Fidel and Raul Castro) and their minions. Supposed achievements in the matter of the prisoners of conscience have only served them to be accomplices in helping to take the lid off the pot and relieve the pressure and thus avoid a social explosion on the island, to procure some respite for a process that is asphyxiating at times, an that resorts to strategies intended to improve its international image, award accomplices, and ultimately ultimately extend a system which the population does not believe in, such as releasing the prisoners of conscience to Spain which agreed to receive them as political refugees, but which disengaged from them after their arrival and haphazardly left them in the hands of God. The Master of Ceremonies of this sizable circus was Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.

In the end they demonstrated that releasing the prisoners was not done for humanitarian but for political reasons. I also pray for them and I urge you to provide them the place they deserve after suffering persecution, torture and imprisonment, it would be very kind of you to stop this escalation of agony, and end something that started ill. Ii is in your hands to do it.

Of course, we know that while the Popular Party has won, it doesn’t mean it will resolve the immense problems that have shaken Spain, much less solve the dilemma of the Cubans. What we are sure of is that at least you, President Mariano Rajoy, have extended a hand in solidarity and know how to take the measure of a dictatorship that is dying, but that even in its death throes, keeps kicking and is willing to take the lives of those who confront it.

Recently Cubans have lost a friend, intellectual and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, but God has provided us with you. Having called the Czech writer to His side, he is right to leave this task in your hands.

With humility we simply ask you, President Rajoy, for an ambassador who respects us and offers a place to the thoughtful opposition, dedicated and determined to achieve the freedoms inherent in being human.



Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translator’s note: Slight changes have been made in this letter for English-speaking readers who may not know what positions those named hold or held in Spain and Cuba — they have been added.

December 26 2011

Cuban Intellectuals: When Fear Seeps Into the Bones

Miguel Barnet, Raúl Castro and Abel Prieto

How is it possible that intellectuals who were humiliated and punished by the same people who now govern the country, stay next to the boots that kicked them into submission, that harassed them until they were broken in body, soul and artistic endeavor?

They suffered so much that the fear still corrodes them and they continue to talk in whispers for fear of being overheard and punished again.

These intellectuals reaffirm the lesson received when they learned: this is and will be the rest of your days. Many have already died and could not go beyond the artwork for which they were punished. The fear never left them. Nor have those who remain gone beyond, obviously because they lack the time and spirit to do so.

Isn’t it time to submit the bill? Someone has to pay for the books not written. The plays not staged. The music not created. The empty or fatuous canvasses. Who will pay for all this lost culture?

Some were imprisoned in concentration camps known by the acronym UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production), because then everyone had to be a man, strong and ready to pick up a gun. If they were not suitable physically, or insufficiently masculine, or morally or ideologically unreliable, they were sent as a punishment for not being useful in the defense of the “Revolution.” The artists who didn’t openly defend the Revolution in their works were put on the black list.

They also were sent to these concentration camps for not wearing Russian boots, smoking cigars,  or passing their working hours without getting their hands dirty; and there were those labeled gay, religious, or unenthusiastic about social tasks such as not participating in “voluntary work” or the sugar cane harvest; these, too, were caught and sent to these hells.

The sacrilege of the different

To receive mail or calls from abroad, to wear outlandish dress or new fashions, was a direct affront to the socialist system. It was sacrilege to listen to foreign music or to Cuban singers living outside the island, to access literature that didn’t sympathize with the “Revolution,” to have long hair was an insult to machismo, to be frowned upon by any official or simply not to get along with the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on your block. Those fascist-style or Stalinesque concentration camps (we know now they did the same damage) were designed according Fidel Castro’s version, and he has not had the dignity to publicly acknowledge, or at least to say that we was wrong in one of those writings he calls his “Reflections.”

It’s true that most of the intellectuals did not go to these concentration camps, but as artists they are supposed to have the sentiment to suffer those disastrous events that happened in their time. In any event, they did not escape unscathed, suffering other acts of torture, derision for being creative. Most were expelled from schools and workplaces. Their cultural work was slanted for many years, and ultimately it was permeated by that fear that sinks into the bone.

All the artists were mocked by political, military and cultural officials, who concurred in being the same. And “Socialist Realism” took off because it was the only way to present yourself as an artist. And they are still out there presenting their anti-aesthetic and submissive works.

Several decades of those early events that marked Cuban artists have passed, and still the horror keeps them prostrate, the impression caused by the punishments imposed, their bodies still bleeding from the wounds as in the early days, sometimes covered by false scars constantly hidden by makeup.

Frozen by the horror

Worst of all is that they remain silent and still pretend to support the system. They still respond like intellectuals of the seventies. The horror froze them in time and they don’t know how to reject it, to share their real opinions about “the damned circumstances” that occur in society because their mission, they were told, is to be artists, and the artists are concerned only to entertain people without questioning the political leadership of the country.

If one is an artist of the “left,” from anywhere in the world that questions the United States or any political process opposed to the dictatorial regime of Fidel Castro, then one can be a political artist and you were and are invited to summer in Cuba. Artistic thought can only go in one direction, and the arrow of orientation is toward the government.

The question that follows is whether they will die with that fear. If they will never be able let escape what they have always hidden. If they will contain their catharsis and present their suffering and discrepancies from surfacing before the ways of acting of the political process, and if they will conform to the narrow purged space they were permitted during “the email war” of 2007. If they will continue being the bland part of society, as we were labeled by that disagreeable, and later crazy, State functionary?

At least it is my wish to invite them to fulfill their aspirations, that are reasonable with their conscience, with which they can honestly expound their ideologies and their personal conversations where they give free rein to their real thought, and say and assume it publicly.

You will then see that their hearts will swell with emotion as they beat.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

January 4 2012